Three die in South Korean ship explosion

The damaged South Korean ship. Photo: 15 January 2012 The cause of the blast is being investigated

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A South Korean cargo ship has sunk after an explosion on board, killing at least three crew members, the coast guard says.

Eight people are still missing and five others have been rescued in the incident north of Jawol island, near the port of Incheon.

The blast happened in the morning after the ship had unloaded oil products.

The cause is being investigated, but officials say it is unlikely to be the result of an attack by North Korea.

"The explosion took place far below the sea border with North Korea. We see very little possibility (of attacks by the North)," a coastguard spokesman told the AFP news agency.

The ship's owners said that the explosion could have been caused by gases leaking from the ship's oil tanks.

"We believe that something went wrong during the process to take out remaining gas in the oil tank," an official of Doora Shipping told South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"The vessel usually transports diesel, but this time it carried gasoline. We are now examining whether it had any relation to the explosion," the official said.

The dead crew members included two Burmese nationals and one South Korean.

The search for the missing is continuing.

The 4,191-tonne freight ship had 16 crew members on board - 11 South Koreans and five Burmese.

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